East Turkestan: Kazakhstan No Longer Safe Haven
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Below is an article written by Natalia Antelava and published by BBC News:
On a rainy afternoon, in a village near the Kazakh-Chinese border, an engagement party brought two families together. Women in colourful traditional dresses brought out dishes of meat and rice.
As the feast went on, guests toasted the new family and the future, but the songs they sang were about the past, and the land their ancestors had lost to
Uighurs, who are ethnically Turkic Muslims, share a history in which victims outnumber heroes, and stories of persecution overshadow tales of greatness.
For centuries, Uighurs fought the Chinese over the land they call
Over the past 200 years, millions of Uighurs fled wars and persecution and settled in
And that is a problem for
Terrified to be discovered by the Kazakh authorities, Khader, an asylum seeker from
In a dimly-lit room, Khader and his friends showed us piles of paperwork - thick files of dozens of asylum seekers, with black and white photographs of men and women attached.
Some of them, they said, had been already deported to
Khader's dark, restless eyes were full of deep and disturbing fear, but his voice was measured and calm as he spoke about his experiences in
"They never leave us alone. You go out in the street, you go to a market, and police just beat you. I grew up hearing the stories of my neighbours and family members being tortured in the Chinese prisons," he said.
"They call us all terrorists, but what makes us terrorists? Just the fact that we are Uighurs?"
Ten years ago, Khader attended a demonstration in his home town just across the border from
Chinese soldiers, he said, killed his brother and chased him as he ran across the border.
Ever since then, Khader has been hiding in
The only dubious assurance of security he has is a $100 bill that he always carries in his pocket.
"This is what I give to the local police when they stop me. One day, when I can't bribe my way out, the worst can happen."
The worst, he says, is deportation. "I am not a terrorist, I am just a baker, but if I am sent back I will be killed - I will be hanged or shot," Khader said.
There are dozens of people like Khader hiding in
Human rights groups are calling on the Kazakh government not to deport the Uighurs to
"At this point, I see no exit, no solution to this situation, because Kazakhstani authorities simply don't want to spoil their relationship with
"Only we, the Chinese, know what is going on inside our country. We don't want the outside world to interfere. The Chinese government is working for the happiness and well-being of all Chinese," Wang Bing said.
Back in the village near the Kazakh-Chinese border, as night falls, hundreds of people pack a dilapidated village concert hall. The show, a display of traditional Uighur dance, is about to begin.
Young and old, women and men, watch mesmerised as girls in long purple dresses take to the stage. They sway and swirl to the haunting tunes of the traditional lute.
For generations, Uighurs have been free to perform here.